Police officer recounts exchanging gunfire with suspect in 2018 standoff; mentally ill man ordered to stand trial on attempted murder charge
photo by: Sara Shepherd
Lawrence police officer Charles Stewart still isn’t sure who fired first outside of 620 Stowe Court on the night of June 29, 2018.
In the moment, though, when he saw the man point a gun at him, he didn’t wait to find out what would happen next, the officer testified.
“I started shooting at him,” Stewart said. “He was going to try to kill me.”
Stewart said he emptied his magazine, firing 17 shots, before reloading and firing two more shots when the man re-emerged from his house wearing body armor and still wielding his gun.
Bullets from the suspect’s gun hit the houses of two neighbors who were home at the time — including one family with four children — law enforcement testimony revealed.
Though the gunfire damaged property, no people were hit.
Stewart’s testimony — accompanied by patrol car video of the incident — kicked off a preliminary hearing for Abdul Jalil K. Hussein, 35, of Lawrence, on May 1.
On Wednesday, the second day of the hearing, Douglas County District Court Judge James McCabria bound Hussein over for trial on charges of attempted premeditated first-degree murder of Stewart, being a mentally ill person in possession of a gun and numerous other felony charges from three separate incidents.
Hussein allegedly fired a gun in the air and caused a police standoff at his home in December 2017; burglarized and broke the door to his mother’s house in early June 2018; then chopped down her front door with an ax and shot a gun at her TV before the late June 2018 shootout and standoff with police.
Hussein remains jailed on $700,000 bond. His trial date hasn’t been set. His arraignment is scheduled for May 20.
Hussein has spent a number of months undergoing mental health evaluation and treatment at Larned State Hospital since his arrest last summer. He’d previously been diagnosed with schizophrenia and was involuntarily committed to Osawatomie State Hospital after the December 2017 standoff, but apparently obtained a different gun and committed new crimes after getting back home, according to court testimony and filings by authorities and his family.
Hussein’s appointed attorney Hatem Chahine indicated in a previous court filing that he intends to assert a “lack of mental state” defense in the case.
District Attorney Charles Branson reviewed the case and determined no criminal charges against the officer were warranted.
Stewart, a 17-year-veteran of the Lawrence Police Department, said that around dusk on June 29, 2018, he was called to a disturbance in the 400 block of Crestline Drive, where someone reported their neighbor’s son was trying to kick in his mother’s door.
Stewart said he couldn’t see house numbers or anyone kicking a door when he pulled onto the street, but he did see a Jeep Wrangler back out of a driveway and speed off. Suspecting it was involved, Stewart followed the Jeep and turned on his sirens, but the driver refused to pull over.
A few blocks away, the Jeep pulled into the driveway of 620 Stowe Court, and the driver got out and headed for the front door.
Stewart yelled “Stop!” three times and ran after the man, catching up with him at the front step.
“He turned around and immediately attacked me,” Stewart said. “I just remember his arms and knee coming at me at the same time.”
Stewart said he felt sharp pain from being hit on the head, stumbled back, then pulled out his baton.
But when Stewart looked up, he saw the suspect had a gun and was pointing it at his face.
“I thought he was going to shoot me,” Stewart said. “I moved away as quickly as I could and tried to pull my firearm out as well to defend myself.”
As Stewart took cover behind his patrol car, the man went in the front door.
Shortly, the garage door opened and the man came back out into the driveway, still holding a gun. Stewart ordered the man to drop the gun — yelling “Drop the gun!” three times, the video from the incident shows — but instead the man raised his arm and pointed the gun at Stewart, who then started shooting.
The man retreated into the garage but came back out a couple of minutes later, this time wearing a bulletproof vest, Stewart said.
Stewart stood up in the courtroom to demonstrate the man’s movements, walking in a crouched position with both hands together as if holding and pointing a gun in front of his body.
“He was hunting me, and he was going to kill me,” Stewart said.
Stewart, who had moved to the side of the house so the man wouldn’t know exactly where he was, again yelled to drop the gun.
The man didn’t, and — with sirens from backup officers who were still en route wailing in the background — Stewart fired two more shots. He said he saw the man “lurch” backward into his garage, and that the garage door then went back down.
photo by: Ashley Hocking
While the gun itself is difficult to see in Stewart’s dashcam video, the footage played in court captured the audio and video from most of the incident.
More police, including the department’s crisis team, arrived. After an hourslong standoff, officers got Hussein out of the house, and he was arrested.
Even though police had been at Hussein’s house before, Stewart said he hadn’t.
In response to questions from Hussein’s lawyer, Stewart said he didn’t recognize Hussein or his car or have any suspect description when he was first dispatched.
When Chahine asked Stewart whether he knew who was shooting first, the officer said, “I would be curious to know.”
A different video from shortly before the gunfire showed Hussein pulling into his mother’s driveway and walking up to the front door with a long-handled ax.
He swings the ax at the door over a dozen times before kicking through with his foot. Inside the house, Hussein moves from room to room, opening closets and checking under a bed, still carrying the ax and what investigators said was a gun.
His mother, video shows, hurriedly runs out of the house before Hussein sees her.
Her front door was already barred after Hussein forced it open earlier that month, damaging the frame. Video from multiple cameras set up inside his mother’s house show that incident, too.
Hussein’s mother, Grace Torko, testified that growing up Hussein was a “father figure” to his other siblings.
She said she started noticing a change in him in late 2017 and that by June of 2018 she had “serious concerns” about his mental health.
“I am very close to my son,” she said. “I noticed a change in him, that he started withdrawing.”
Johnson County Sheriff’s Office investigators — who probed the incident because it involved shots fired by a Lawrence police officer — said Torko previously told them she ran from the house in fear of her son.
In court, she denied being scared.
She said she left the house both times to avoid confrontation with Hussein. She said she called police the first time only because Hussein wasn’t “himself” and wasn’t making sense.
Torko said she’d been seeking help for her son for a long time but couldn’t convince him to get help. She said police previously told her that they couldn’t do anything unless he was a danger to himself or others but told her she should to continue to call them if there was a problem.
She said she didn’t call police when Hussein forced in her door with the ax “because they are not of help to me.”
Marissa Jenkins was one of the neighbors at home when gunshots rang out at the end of the cul-de-sac.
She testified that she was in a front bedroom of the house with three of her children — ages 2, 6 and 7 — when she heard police sirens. Her 11-year-old son, her husband and their babysitter were all downstairs.
Jenkins said she looked out the window and saw her neighbor “zoom” into his driveway followed by a police officer. She said she saw the officer chase him to the front door, where Hussein “drop-kicked” the officer.
Then she saw the garage door open and Hussein come out with a gun in his hand, she said.
She said Hussein raised his arm, she saw muzzle flashes from his gun, and she heard a string of shots. She said Hussein fired first.
Jenkins began to cry and paused before recounting what happened inside her house.
She heard her husband scream from downstairs, “Get on the ground.” She heard a crash in their living room. She pushed her children out of the window and they all crawled to a bedroom in the back of the house.
“We got down on our bellies — as we were instructed to one time before,” she said.
This was not the first time Hussein had fired a gun and caused a police standoff on their street, Jenkins said. The family gathered blankets and hunkered down together in their laundry room — the room farthest from Hussein’s house — for the night.
“I knew we were probably going to be camping out for a while,” she said.
Indeed, as another neighbor on the cul-de-sac testified, a police officer came to the house and instructed them to stay inside with the lights off and away from windows until the standoff was resolved.
The next morning, Johnson County crime scene investigators found a bullet that had broken through Jenkins’ living room window and landed on the floor, plus a bullet hole in the house’s roof.
They also found a bullet that had pierced the other neighbor’s garage and landed next to her car, where that neighbor testified she’d walked through minutes earlier.
All those bullets came from the gun recovered from Hussein’s living room after the standoff, a Johnson County crime scene investigator and crime lab firearm examiner testified.
Lawrence police officers testified Wednesday that after the first standoff, Hussein was taken to the hospital for a mental evaluation instead of jail. Within days, with a court order, he was then involuntarily committed to the state hospital.
photo by: Nick Krug
In a search of his house at that time, according to testimony, police recovered a bulletproof vest and two handguns: a Ruger in a bible case next to his bed and an Astra in a shoulder holster under his mattress.
Hussein was out on bond after being charged in that case when the shootout with police and standoff occurred six months later.
When law enforcement searched Hussein’s house after that incident, they found a Taurus pistol in an armchair. Forensic testing linked the bullets found in the neighbors’ houses to that gun.
Hussein’s attorney argued that when his client was arrested for having a gun during the first standoff, he had not yet been involuntarily committed to a mental institution.
However, in binding Hussein over on the charge of being a mentally ill person in possession of a gun, the judge sided with prosecutor Alice Walker’s argument that when he had the gun, he was mentally ill and thus subject to involuntary commitment.
“The Legislature has deemed it is unsafe for a mentally ill person to have a firearm,” she said.
In arguing for Hussein’s other charges to stick, Walker emphasized that numerous lives were placed in danger from his actions and said it was fortunate no one was hurt or killed.
While Chahine argued that his client’s actions did not show premeditation to kill the police officer, Walker said they did. Specifically, she said, Hussein apparently hit Stewart over the head with a gun, came back outside and tried to shoot him with the gun, then returned yet again to “hunt” him down but fortunately failed.
“He’s preparing for a battle with the officer,” Walker said. “He’s got body armor on, and he’s got a gun.”
photo by: Sara Shepherd